Archive for February, 2011

28
Feb
11

The Common Evil

Last post I mentioned the opening scene in The Boondock Saints, in which it is declared “We must all fear evil men, but there is another kind of evil that we must fear most, and this the indifference of good men…”. It got me thinking.

A couple years ago, I saw a documentary called The Corporation– an excellently done critique of the issues of globalization, neo-liberalism, and Capitalism in general. One particularly interesting segment was devoted to looking at heads of corporations, with commentaries added by Noam Chomsky and ‘Sir’ Mark Moody-Stuart, the former chairman of Royal Dutch Shell (better known simply as “Shell”). Moody-Stuart recounts a demonstration that was held at his house, in which protesters hurled accusations at him and his involvement in the Shell corporation. Moody’s wife (the event was recorded on film) retorts “Who is the corporation?”. Moody-Stuart continues on in his narration to say “But then we sat down and talked to them… in the end what we found in that discussion was that all the things they were worried about I was worried about as well… climate, you know, oppressive regimes, human rights…”. Now Chomsky, on the other hand, had prefaced that segment with some commentary on individuals within corporations. He argues “When you look at a corporation, just like when you look at a slave-owner, uh, you want to distinguish between the institution and the individual… slavery, for example, or other forms of tyranny are inherently monstrous, but the individuals participating in them might be the nicest guys you can imagine. Benevolent, friendly, nice to their children, even nice to their slaves… as individuals they might be anything- in their institutional roles they’re monsters because the institutions is monstrous.”

And there’s the issue. GAP clothing is made by sweatshop labor in South-East Asia- who should be put on trial? Who is responsible for the atrocities that are committed? We look at the people doing the actual work- the sweatshop managers and owners and they point up asserting that they were only following orders, and that they don’t have any real power. At the top the CEOs and Executives are pointing down, declaring that they only deal with the big figures- that they’re not aware of anything that goes on at the ground level and can’t be held responsible for the treatment of workers or the environment. It’s the lynch mob scenario- because no one person does the entire murder, figuring out which one person is to blame is tricky.

Personally, I say take ’em all. Just because the guilt is spread around doesn’t mean it’s at all diminished. If Person A brings the rope, and Person B grabs the victim, and Person C points out a convenient tree, it doesn’t mean that each person’s committed a third of a murder- it means that all three are responsible. Same seems to go for a corporation- at any point someone can throw up their hands and say “**** it- I’m not going to do this anymore!”. The sweatshop overseer can walk away, the middleman can walk away, the CEO can walk away. Even if no one person can put a stop the unethical practice, at the very least they can remove themselves from it. We would expect a single German officer in the 1930s to bring down Hitler but a resignation of his post and a denouncement of the Nazis would be in order.

Of course, it’s easy to bash corporations, but guilt reaches far beyond the boundaries of corporate HQ. We, as consumers and workers alike, have to stand back and with scathing objectivity look at ourselves and question our involvement. Am I being party to exploitative or unethical systems? Am I doing all that I can to remove myself? Am I part of the problem?

And it’s not easy- we think of evil as being committed by Bond style villains with maniacal laughter and white cats, or by sadistic concentration camp guards and doctors. The idea of common evil- evil weaved into the very fabric of modern society- is an idea alien to us. However, as theologian and writer C.S. Lewis once asserted “The greatest evil is not done in those sordid dens of evil that Dickens loved to paint but is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clear, carpeted, warmed, well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices.”. In short, there is no single person who commits the atrocities that plague us. The evil is within the system- and the system has to go.

26
Feb
11

I Agree With You But…

A few weeks ago, I and some friends were protesting an unfair policy at my college. Exactly what the policy was isn’t important, suffice it gave the student body unequal treatment, depending on which class you belonged you. So as I and my friend stood in hallway, holding homemade signs, the students getting the special treatment began to file past us. Some ignored our calls for them to refuse the preferential treatment they were being offered, a few stopped to talk to us, and some even listened to us and turned around and left. For the most part, however, the students smiled at us and said “I agree with you but-“. Exactly what there justification was isn’t really important either- it tended to be something along the lines of “-but I don’t want to stand in the other line…” or “-but my friends are waiting for me in there…” or “-but they’re going to give your class something nice as well…” and so on. As I said, the justification isn’t really important- it’s the “I agree with you but-” part.

 

Now I wanted to tell them “Hey- you either agree or you don’t- you’ll either take our side or you won’t”. If you agree that killing kittens for sport is unethical (don’t panic- that not what the college was doing) then you won’t kill kittens- if you don’t agree, then you’ll have no issue with it. However, you can’t ever say that “I believe killing kittens for sport is wrong, but [insert excuse here]”. Again, you either agree or you don’t.

 

And the issue I have isn’t with which side people take- it’s with attempt to hold two conflicting positions. In the words of one of my favorite rappers, “Hypocrisy- it bothers me” (Lowkey- I recommend his song “Terrorist”). You see, this “I agree with you but…” scenario is reflective of a much greater problem we have in society. On one hand we say we believe something- most of the time we believe that we believe- but when it comes to acting on our purported beliefs we’re nowhere to be seen. I saw this issue earlier when I was going door to door collecting signatures for a boycott of Coca-Cola. I’d ask if the residents believed that sweatshop labor was wrong- they’d say “Yes.”. I’d ask them if they thought people should boycott sweatshop made products- they’d say “Yes.”. I’d ask them if they would boycott Coke and they’d say “No- we agree with you but-“. Again I want to yell at these people “No, you don’t agree with me! I don’t care if I get your signature or not- just don’t tell me you agree with me but you won’t do anything!”.

 

Maybe it’s a post-modernist thing- values are held for the aesthetic qualities, not for their application. When you get a poster of Picasso’s Guernica, it’s because the picture fits well with the general decor of the room you’re hanging it in- not because you espouse an anti-war view. In the same way, you might have (or rather, claim to have) an anti-war view because it looks good- not because you’d ever act on it.

 

Or maybe I’m over thinking it. Maybe the “I agree with you but…” is just a human problem.

 

Not too long ago, I was listening to a Socialist give a lecture on human nature. She made the claim that in times of disaster, humans didn’t immediately turn on each or hunt each other down. Melodramatic, yes, but her point was that even when you strip away government, the police, the army, and all social constructs for the protection of humans against each other, people didn’t start murdering each other left and right. She argued that this disproves the belief that human nature is inherently evil. Of course, while the points she offered are correct, the conclusions she drew are all wrong. Humans aren’t basically evil because we do terrible things to each other- humans are basically evil because we do nothing. One of my favorite movies, The Boondock Saints, opens with a priest giving a sermon on the murder of a young woman who was killed in public, with no one responding in any ways to her calls for help. The priest declares “We must all fear evil men, but there is another kind of evil that we must fear most, and this the indifference of good men…”.

 

Maybe the problem is here. Maybe we’re just too egocentric to imagine anything as unfair unless we’re being affected. Maybe we’re just naturally apathetic.

 

Of course, that’s no excuse. Just because we have a proclivity towards selfishness, hypocrisy, and laziness doesn’t mean we should get away with it. Is it right to tolerate injustice and oppression? Of course not. Should we resist, engage, dissent, and fight for what is moral and right? Naturally. So we’re going to shake ourselves out of apathy?

 

Well, I agree with you, but…

26
Feb
11

A Very Brief Post

At long last I’ve got my computer fixed and have the time to do some writing. Now as the past couple weeks have been bursting with developments in the democracy movement in the Middle East and North Africa, union protests in Wisconsin, and a couple of my own adventures, it’s going to be tough to comment on everything. So for now, here’s a very brief summary of what has been going on my own reactions to it.

 

Egypt (and elsewhere…)

While I’ve written about Egypt before, I still feel obliged to point out that what has happened- and indeed, what continues to happen- is truly amazing. The Egyptian people have managed to topple a long-standing dictator, with almost no bloodshed, and started on a path to self-determination within the space of a few weeks- something the combined forces of the US, UK, and a host of other countries haven’t been able to do in Iraq in the past eight years. It all just goes to show that there’s no substitute for the power of the people, and that sustainable change can only occur from the bottom up- not the top down. Likewise, the uprisings in Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and other Middle Eastern and North African countries are very promising.

 

Wisconsin

Recently elected Republican governor Scott Walker, attempting to balance the state budget, has called for major cuts to benefits of state employees and the abolition of the right of state employees to use collective bargaining. While unions have conceded to Walker’s budget cuts, they have of course refused to accept calls to end collective bargaining (which would effectively remove the union’s ability to unionize). Really what we have here is an attempt to obliterate a union and prevent state workers from ever having the ability to call for better wages, benefits, or working conditions. Regardless of what you feel about the current condition of Wisconsin state employees income, we all have to accept that workers, regardless of income, have the right to fight for equitable conditions of employment.

 

Italy

Media tycoon, 74th richest man on the planet, and prime minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi is currently on trial for an affair with an underage prostitute, corruption charges, and bribing lawyers. Of course, this is nothing surprising, considering Berlusconi’s long history of frauds charges, conflicts of interest, corruption, ties to organized crime, and a series of racist comments and sex scandals that could fill a library (though through vast perversion of the political and legal system, it is doubtful Berlusconi will ever be found guilty). Suffice it to say that Burlesconi might be more at home in the court of Caligula or Nero than in modern Italy- in short, he is both incompetent and corrupt, and as a member of the G8, not only an enemy of the Italian public but the world at large.

06
Feb
11

Some Minor Changes…

My computer’s down and since I don’t know when it’ll be fixed, I’m going to have to pause on the blogging for a bit. Not to fear, o faithful readers (all four of you), I’ll be back soon and when I am, there are going to be some changes around here.

First, I think I’ve spelled out the Communist position as best as I can and, let’s face it, people don’t turn towards the blogosphere for political thought that doesn’t reinforce their own ideology (I’m not judging- I do the same). Instead, I’ll be recording my own little andventures as Communist in the glorious and noble struggle against Capitalism, the universe, and everything.

Second, the posts will now have pictures. Yay.

I can’t think of a third point, but I’m going to leave this sentence here to be confusing.

02
Feb
11

A Bit More on Egypt

That last post was a little short, so I thought I might do a Q&A style post to give the basics of my and (in general) the Marxist position.

 

Firstly, there’s the question of revolution. This is a popular uprising, but no one is waving red flags, calling for the redistribution of land, and the adoption of the Communist system of government. Why do Marxists (and the rest of the left) support what’s going on in Egypt?

Well, perhaps it’s best encapsulated in the official statement of the Socialist Party USA on the events in Tunisia, stating “The International Commission of the Socialist Party USA salutes the people of Tunisia in this important step toward liberation.”. While it’s a comment about Tunisia, not Egypt, (you can read the full statement here) the key word is “Step”. While an overnight revolution in which the state, private property, and the class system are destroyed would be great, any step in the right direction isn’t something to be dismissed. The Egyptian public are taking their destinies into their own hands and actively obliterating a regime that has oppressed them for the past three decades.

 

Secondly, there’s the issue of what happens after the uprisings have been completed. After Mubarak, what then?

We’re hoping that the Egyptian public will not let this opportunity for democracy (as much as democracy as anyone can have with Capitalism alongside it) be stolen by another dictator (as Stalin did with the Russian revolution) or have it sabotaged by outside forces (as the US has done on numerous occasions in South and Central America). We hope that Egyptian people will realize that dictators are not the only form of oppression, and take the battle to the evils of neo-colonialism, Capitalism, classism, globalization, and exploitation.

 

Thirdly, there’s the issue of revolution not simply in politics but also in culture and social structure. What should we be looking for?

These revolts have demonstrated just how much power the public wields when united. Hopefully, an aftereffect of the events in Egypt will create an even stronger sense of community and public duty. In addition, the end of the regime’s power may also bring about an end to the state-censorship of media and the arts, allowing for a greater, more free dialogue in politics, music and the arts, and social issues.

 

In short, I join with the Socialist Party in saluting the Egyptian people’s struggle and hope for their continued success.

 

Viva la revolucion.

02
Feb
11

On Egypt (and a little bit about Tunisia)

There are those who’ve asserted that, after over a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East is incapable of democracy. They’ve claimed that tribal divisions run too deep, and that the ideals of Islam and democratic, representative government are diametrically opposed.

 

In the past days, Tunisia and Egypt have proven to be shining examples that those claims just aren’t true.

 

Not that it was ever true to begin with. Hamas was, despite it’s vilification by Western powers, democratically elected in Gaza. Indeed, the majority of areas where this “always-has-been-dictatorship-always-will-be” stereotype have had democratically elected leaders- just not pro-American democratically elected leaders. And if without the West’s blessing, democracy in third-world countries tends to be tragically short lived. Just look at the US sponsored coup that ended the life of Salvador Allende, or the US attacks on the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, or the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala.

 

And here’s the rub. While it cannot be denied that the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt are a great victory for the peoples of those countries, I can’t help but wonder how long it will last. The Tunisians and Egyptians have shown that, without the West and indeed, depsite the West, they are, and always have been, capable of autonomy. They can forge their own destiny- but what if that destiny isn’t to the approval of America, Britain, and other world powers? Let us keep in mind that the Mubarak regime was emphatically supported by the US (despite recent, less than elegant attempts to flip-flop on their position). Indeed, the issue isn’t so much “what if the people in the region begin to act in their own interests?” but “when the people in the region to act in their own interests- how will the West react?”. The entire reason US diplomats and politicians are tripping over each other to voice support for the Egyptian public is because of a desperate need to keep the country as an ally. However, with the US having invested so heavily in the 30-year Mubarak regime, it’s difficult to imagine the Egyptian people particularly fond of America, the West, and the ever expanding power of globalization.

 

So it brings us back to the original problem- it’s wonderful that the Tunisians and Egyptians have freed themselves, but how long will they be free?